The borough of Coalport, in southern Clearfield County, is aptly named. It was incorporated in 1883 from land that was once a part of Beccaria Township.
The borough is situated along the banks of Clearfield Creek, so logging became the premier industry. It was quickly overtaken by the opening of a number of deep and drift mines.
The Cambria Smokeless Coal Co. became a major employer as its operations employed over 500 miners. In typical Clearfield County fashion, the mines became a magnet for homes, schools, churches and an array of small businesses.
The Bell’s Gap Railroad line climbed its way from Bellwood to Glasgow, to Utahville and into Coalport on its way to Punxsutawney. It was, during its time, a competing railway that hauled enough coal in order to gain a profit’s share of the transport market.
But the almighty Pennsylvania and New York Central lines dominated the coal, freight and passenger markets until market forces greatly diminished their use by the1970’s.
Passenger rail service was once vital to Clearfield County, as the early 20th century photo postcard shows. It is hard for us today to fathom just how terrible county and local road travel was a century ago.
A few boroughs had only a few brick paved streets. Both town and rural dirt roads were narrow, worn and rutted. Roadway upkeep was primitive. Early autos sometimes sank up to their axels in mud, and winter snow and ice all but closed them. Bad weather made an already (and relative) slower pace of life nearly come to a halt.
Those who needed and could afford rail travel usually found it accessible. Sometimes passengers had to change rail lines in a particular town by walking from one company’s railway station to another. Perhaps that was comparable to changing airlines or gates of departure in today’s airports, some of them covering huge areas.
The photo shows a standard PRR wooden structure and platform. The coal- and steam-powered locomotive looks to be pulling both a freight and passenger car. Employees pushed baggage carts to both load and unload the boxcars.
Clearfield County passengers traveling east to west across Pennsylvania would find it convenient to connect with the main PRR line in Tyrone or Altoona. From there, long distance travel throughout the United States was made possible.
Coalport and Glendale Valley history is on public display in the Coalport Coal Museum.